The Lucy Variationsby Sara Zarr
Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. But without music in her life, Lucy's not sure who she is, or who she wants to be. Then she meets Will, her brother's new piano teacher, who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy find her way back to piano-not for an… See more details below
Lucy Beck-Moreau once had a promising future as a concert pianist. Now, at sixteen, it's over. A death, and a betrayal, led her to walk away. But without music in her life, Lucy's not sure who she is, or who she wants to be. Then she meets Will, her brother's new piano teacher, who is young, kind, and interested in helping Lucy find her way back to piano-not for an audience, but on her own terms.
National Book Award finalist Sara Zarr takes readers inside one girl's struggle to reclaim her love of music, life, and herself in this stunning novel about finding joy in unexpected places.
"This book has so much depth and character that it stays with you like actual memories. I love how Sara Zarr can make you laugh and cry on the same page, and I think this is her best book yet."James Dashner, New York Times bestselling author of The Maze Runner (Metro New York)
* "[Zarr] really, truly gets inside her characters' minds and shows us what makes them complex human beings -- their faults, fears, and hopes...This is a mellifluous novel about rekindling joy -- in music, in the everyday, and in the beauty around us."Booklist, starred review
* "Zarr doesn't waste a word in this superb study of a young musical prodigy trying to reclaim her life....[Lucy is] a deeply real and sympathetic character, and that dimensionality extends to the rest of the cast. The pressures Lucy is under feels powerful, immediate, and true -- her journey of self-discovery will strike a profound chord with readers."Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "The combination of sympathetic main character and unusual social and cultural world makes this satisfying coming-of-age story stand out."Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* "Exploring relationships is where Zarr soars . . . This strong coming-of-age story about music, passion, and the search for identity will appeal to longtime fans of Zarr's work and newcomers alike."SLJ, starred review
"A satisfying coming-of-age story and a thoughtful treatise on art, identity, and personal fulfillment."The Horn Book
"[A] gripping YA novel about a 16-year-old music prodigy trying to survive the cutthroat world of piano competitions."InStyle
Read an Excerpt
The Lucy Variations
By Sara Zarr
Little, Brown Books for Young ReadersCopyright © 2013 Sara Zarr
All rights reserved.
Try harder, Lucy.
Lucy stared down at Madame Temnikova's face.
Which seemed incredibly gray.
She put her hands over Temnikova's sternum again, and again hesitated.
Stage fright: an opportunity to prove herself or a chance to fail. Which was nothing new for her. It just hadn't been a life-or-death issue until now.
This isn't a performance. Do something.
But an actual dying person in the living room wasn't the same as a Red Cross dummy in the school gym. Lucy tried not to think about Temnikova's skin under her hands. Or the way, from the looks of things, that skin now encased only a body, no longer a soul.
Except the moment wasn't definite. More like Temnikova was not there and then there and then not there. Mostly not.
Gus, Lucy's ten-year-old brother, started to ask the question she didn't want to answer. "Is she ..."
"Call nine-one-one, Gus," she told him for the second time. He'd been motionless, mesmerized. Lucy kept her voice unwavering, though she felt like screaming. She didn't want to freak him out. Channeling her mother's dispassion and authority, she said, "Go do it right now."
Gus hurried across the room to the phone, and Lucy looked at the ceiling, trying to remember the steps in the Cardiac Chain of Survival—what went where and for how long. Where were her mother and grandfather, anyway? They were usually and annoyingly there, running the house and everything, everyone, in it like a Fortune 500 company.
The metronome on top of the piano ticked steadily; Lucy fought off the urge to throw a pillow at it. Instead she used it to time the chest compressions.
Tick tick tick tick.
A slow adagio. A death march.
She didn't know how Gus could stand it. Spending day after day after day after lonely day in this room, with this old woman.
Everything good (tick) is passing you by (tick) as you sit here (tick) and practice your life away (tick).
Except she did know, because she'd done it herself for more than eleven years. Not with Temnikova, but in this room. This house. These parents. This family history.
"My sister is doing that," Gus said into the phone. Then to Lucy, "They want you to try mouth-to-mouth."
When Lucy and Reyna signed up for the CPR workshop at school last spring, they'd assumed their future patients would be sexy, male, and under forty, an idea which now seemed obviously idiotic. Lucy swept her hair back over one shoulder and braced herself.
Their lips met. Lucy's breath filled Temnikova's lungs. They inflated and deflated, inflated and deflated. Nothing. She went back to the chest compressions.
Gus was speaking, but his voice seemed far away. The order of Lucy's actions felt wrong; the backs of her thighs cramped. She looked up at Gus, finally, and tried to read his face. Maybe her inadequacy was engraving permanent trauma onto his psyche. Twenty years from now, in therapy, he'd confide to some bearded middle-aged man that his problems all began when his sister let his piano teacher die right in front of him. Maybe she should have sent him out of the room.
Too late now.
"Tell them I think ... I'm pretty sure she's dead."
Gus held the phone out to Lucy. "You tell them." She stood and took it, wincing at the needles that shot through her sleeping left foot while Gus walked to the piano, stopped the metronome, and slid its metal pendulum into place.
The house seemed to exhale. Lucy gave the bad news to "them." After going over the details they needed, she hung up, and Gus asked, "Do we just leave her body here?"
Temnikova had dropped to the Persian rug, behind the piano bench, where she'd been standing and listening to Gus. Right in the middle of a Chopin nocturne.
"Yeah. They'll be here soon. Let's go ... somewhere else."
"I don't want her to be alone," he said, and sat in Grandpa Beck's armchair, a few feet away from Temnikova's head. She'd been coloring her short hair an unnatural dark red as long as Lucy's family had known her.
Lucy went to Gus and rested her hip against the chair. She should try her mom's cell, or her grandfather's, and her dad's office. Only she didn't want to. And the situation was no longer urgent, clearly.
One of the EMTs said it looked like a stroke, not a heart attack, and there was "probably" nothing Lucy could have done. He typed into his phone or radio or whatever it was while he talked.
Probably. It wasn't exactly a word of comfort.
While the other EMTs loaded Temnikova's body onto a gurney they'd parked in the foyer, the "probably" guy clipped his radio back onto his belt and checked off things on a form. Lucy gave her name and parents' names and the house phone number. He paused halfway down the page and rested his finger over one of the check boxes.
"You're over eighteen, right?"
"Really." He—small and wiry, maybe two inches shorter than Lucy—gave her a once-over. Their eyes didn't quite meet. "You look older."
She never knew what to say to that. Was it supposed to be a compliment? Maybe she didn't want to look older. Maybe she didn't even want to be sixteen. Twelve. Twelve had been a good age: going to the symphony with Grandma Beck in excessively fancy dresses, unembarrassed to hold her hand. Being light enough that her dad could carry her from the car to the front door on late nights. Shopping with her mother and not winding up in a fight every time.
"So I've been told," she said. He smiled. There should be some kind of rule against smiling in his job. She said, "Just another day for you, I guess."
"I wouldn't put it that way." He handed her a card. "I'll need to have one of your parents call this number as soon as they can. You said she's not a relative?"
His look turned into a stare that lingered somewhere between Lucy's neck and waist. She stood straighter, and he returned his attention to the clipboard. "She's my brother's piano teacher."
Lucy gestured to Gus, who'd been sitting on the stairs, his chin in his hands. He didn't appear traumatized. Bored, possibly. Or, knowing him, simply thinking. Maybe thinking about how if he'd been allowed to go to his school sleepover at the Academy of Sciences, like he wanted, this wouldn't even be happening. But, as usual, their parents and Temnikova had said no, reluctant to take any time away from his scheduled practice.
The EMT blew a breath through his thin lips. "That's rough. It happening right here, during a lesson."
Where else would it happen? Temnikova practically lived there, in the piano room. Gus wasn't your average ten-year-old, fumbling through "Clair de lune" and "London Bridge" while everyone who was forced to listen held back the eye rolls. He had a career. A following. Like Lucy used to have. And Zoya Temnikova had been working with him since he turned four, when Lucy's grandfather flew her to the States from Volgograd, set her up in an apartment down the street, and helped her become a legalized citizen.
Her dying at the piano made perfect sense.
Still, it was sad. She'd given her life to their family, and now it was over.
After the EMTs rolled the body out, Gus got up off the stairs and stood next to Lucy in the starkly hushed foyer. If he was upset about Temnikova, he didn't show it. When Lucy asked, "You okay, Gustav?" all he had to say about the death of the woman with whom he'd spent so much of his time over the last six years was:
"Mom's going to be pissed."
"She wasn't even that old." Lucy's mother, tall and straight-backed at the kitchen island, slapped a flank steak onto the cutting board.
"She was ancient," Lucy said, skulking in the serving pantry between the kitchen and the dining room. Her father had parked himself on a stool at the island, Gus next to him. The two of them created a handy buffer zone between Lucy and her mom. She'd already gotten in trouble for not calling either of her parents or Grandpa Beck—or even Martin, their housekeeper, who'd been off—until the EMTs left. Her defense, which her mother did not appreciate, was, "It's not like any of you could have brought her back to life."
Now her father said, "Lucy's right. She was at that age when you can go anytime."
"She had a dinosaur neck," Gus added.
"Gus," Lucy said. "A little respect?"
Lucy's dad took a swallow of his Old Fashioned while her mother whacked the steak with a mallet and Lucy felt the in-and-out of her own breath. Since Temnikova's exit, she'd become weirdly aware of her lungs, her heart, everything in her body that worked to keep her alive.
"Well, it's terrible timing," her mother said. She put a grill pan down on the stove top. While it heated she strode toward Lucy, who took a nervous step back, until she realized the actual object of her mother's displeasure was the calendar that hung just inside the pantry. "Seven weeks." She gave Lucy a hard look, pointing at the calendar. "Not even seven. Closer to six and a half."
The winter showcase at the symphony hall.
CPR isn't as easy as it looks on TV, Mom. "Gus'll be ready. He's ready now."
"Of course he's ready now." Her mother went back to the island and put the steak into the pan. Sizzle and smoke. "But he won't be ready in six weeks without anyone on him. How am I going to find someone at this time of year? With the holidays coming up."
"It's okay, Mom," Gus said. "I'll practice the same amount."
"It's a showcase, Kat." Lucy's dad turned his glass in his hand. "Not a competition. He'll do fine."
He must have forgotten that fine wasn't in their family's vocabulary. If you were a Beck-Moreau, and you got up on stage for any reason—showcase, competition, recital, or just to roll a piano stool into place—you'd better surpass fine by about a million miles.
Granted, that was more a Beck issue than a Moreau one.
"The Swanner isn't long after, and that is a competition. I'll send out e-mails tonight," her mother said. "After Grandpa gets home and I have a chance to talk to him about it. We'll find out who's available on such short notice. No one good, I'm sure."
Lucy ventured two steps into the kitchen, placing her body in front of the calendar. "Maybe Gus could take a little break. Some people do, you know. Some people believe it actually helps. And then he could—"
Her mother cut her off. "Lucy, I'm sorry, but you're not exactly the first person I'm going to turn to for advice about this."
"Kat ..." Lucy waited for her dad to say more than that. Perhaps even mount a minor defense on Lucy's behalf. But no. Of course not.
"Do you want me to set the table, Mom?" Gus asked.
"I'll help," Lucy said, and followed him into their large formal dining room. It took immense self-control to not ruffle his hair. She loved his curls; he didn't like anyone touching them.
"Set for four," their mother called after them. "Grandpa's meeting friends tonight."
Given how Grandma's death had gone down, it was no big surprise that Grandpa Beck hadn't canceled his plans and come running home upon hearing the news about Temnikova. No surprise, but still cold.
They laid out clean place mats and napkins, dinner plates, salad plates, dinner forks, salad forks, knives, spoons. No dessert stuff on weekdays. Wineglasses for their parents. Water goblets for everyone. Even without Grandpa Beck, even under the circumstances, they would conform to tradition. Generally, Lucy didn't mind. It would be nice, though, once in a while, to be the kind of family that on a crap day like this would order a pizza and eat it in the kitchen. Maybe even talk about the fact that it was kinda sad and awful that someone who mattered to them had died in their house that afternoon.
"Nice work, Gustav," Lucy said, double-checking the table. She rubbed a butter knife clean of water spots. Martin would never let an unclean knife leave the kitchen.
Gus rested his hands on the back of one of the dining chairs and nodded. Lucy went to stand beside him. She wasn't much of a crier, but, God. What a day. Temnikova was gone. Just ... gone. Like Grandma. Except Grandma was Grandma. So it was different. But Lucy hadn't been here for that, and now that she'd seen this death up close, she couldn't help but think about the one she'd missed.
She put her arm around Gus and leaned way down to rest her head on his shoulder. "Someday you'll be taller, and this won't be so awkward."
"Oh, is that why it's awkward?"
"Funny." She straightened up, the urge to cry gone. "I'm sorry I couldn't save her."
"You said that already. It's okay."
"Aren't you a little bit sad?" she asked.
"I don't know," Gus said. "Are you?"
"It makes me think of Grandma."
Gus nodded, and Lucy set her hand on his head for a few seconds until he squirmed out from under it and took his seat. He put his napkin on his lap, so mannered and adult. He'd never had a messy phase. He'd never been sent away from the table. He never got crazy. Their parents took it as something to be proud of. Lucy thought maybe it wasn't how a ten-year-old boy's life should look, and she wished he would get crazy once in a while. A sugar bender. A tantrum. Inappropriate jokes.
But in their house, childhood, like grief, was an episode merely tolerated. An inconvenience and an obstacle to the real work of life: proving to the world and to yourself that you weren't just taking up space.
She sat across from Gus and flapped her napkin out dramatically, to make him smile.
Maybe it was good he was such a perfect kid. It left her free to screw up for both of them.
A cocktail party at a hotel, eight months ago. Lucy, nervous and in a new dress; one she and her mother had picked out together and agreed on, back when they used to agree on at least some things. It was slightly more adult than the rest of Lucy's wardrobe. She was about to turn sixteen, and her mother didn't mind Lucy showing leg as long as the neckline stayed appropriate and the heel low. The dress—silver jersey with ruching that gathered at the left side of her waist—stopped midthigh. Lucy was supposed to be wearing tights.
But her mother wasn't there to check. She'd stayed home to take care of Grandma Beck, whose bad cold had suddenly become pneumonia. So Lucy's dad had come instead to Prague, for the festival. Grandpa Beck, too, of course, because he believed he had to be at everything. Later, Lucy didn't understand how he could have left his sick wife behind the way he did.
She was talking to two of the other pianists playing the festival but, unlike her, not competing: a guy from Tokyo and a girl from a European city Lucy didn't quite catch over the noise of the room, whose name was Liesel or Louisa or something. They were both older than she was by about ten years, both good enough English speakers to talk about the pieces they were playing, where else they'd traveled recently, and where they were going next.
"I think I'm doing Tanglewood this summer," Lucy told them.
It sounded impressive. Not that she wanted to go to Tanglewood. As she hadn't wanted to do so many of the things that filled her time: the concerts and festivals and recording sessions and competitions that took her around the world and caused her to miss such massive chunks of school that she wasn't officially enrolled anymore. Instead she worked with various tutors from USF. Marnie and cute Bennett and sometimes Allison.
She hadn't even wanted to come to the Prague, which only took fifteen pianists in her age group from around the world. Out of thousands of applicants, she'd made it. There'd been a party. Grandma Beck wouldn't let anyone else pick the flowers or the food. Lucy's dad bought her a white-gold necklace with an L pendant to congratulate her, and Gus got all caught up in imagining himself at the same festival one day. Grace Chang, her teacher, took Lucy out for a special dinner to strategize a repertoire.
The thing was, Lucy hadn't even applied.
Her mother had filled out the form and sent in the CD.
"I didn't want you to be disappointed if you didn't get in," her mom had said.
Right, Lucy had thought. More like you didn't want to give me the chance to say no.
Excerpted from The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr. Copyright © 2013 Sara Zarr. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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